NCAA Basketball Picks: Big East Tournament Semifinal Prime Plays

Matthew Jordan

Friday, March 11, 2016 2:33 PM UTC

Friday, Mar. 11, 2016 2:33 PM UTC

Could top-seeded Villanova be on upset alert in the Big East semifinals on Friday from Madison Square Garden in New York? Get our free NCAA basketball picks inside.

Providence vs. No. 3 Villanova
I previewed fourth-seeded Providence's game against Butler on Thursday here at SBR and recommended taking the Friars plus-3.5 points even though they had lost twice to the Bulldogs during the regular season. It's very hard to beat the same team three times in one college basketball season. Providence (23-9) upset Butler 74-60 for its fourth straight win (three by at least 14 points). On Wednesday, Friars guard Kris Dunn was named Big East Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. He earlier had also been named Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.  Dunn joined Georgetown's Patrick Ewing, the greatest player in Big East history, as the only players in the history of the league to earn Player of the Year twice and Defensive Player of the Year twice. Dunn had 15 points, seven assists and two rebounds in the win over Butler. But sophomore Ben Bentil, the Big East's leading scorer and also a First Team all-conference pick like Dunn, was the real star. He had 38 points and eight rebounds. The 38 points are tied for the second-most points ever in a Big East Tournament game. Former UConn star Donyell Marshall had 42 points in 1994. But Bentil's 16 made field goals were a Big East Tournament record; Marshall had 15 in his 42-point game.

Villanova (28-4), which is third in the AP Top 25, is probably guaranteed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win here. The Wildcats beat Georgetown 81-67 on Thursday. The Hoyas were only down a point midway through the second half before Nova pulled away. Josh Hart led Villanova with 25 points. The Wildcats were an excellent 13-for-21 from 3-point range. But the news wasn't all good. Starting center Daniel Ochefu sprained his ankle in practice earlier this week and it clearly hampered him Thursday as he played just 13 minutes and was 0-for-2 from the field without a rebound. He is the only healthy player taller than 6-foot-8 on Villanova's roster. It's not clear if he will play here. Villanova's 22-game Big East winning streak ended on Jan. 24 at home against Providence, 82-76 in overtime. Two weeks later in Providence, the Wildcats got payback with a 72-60 victory. Bentil was playing through an ankle injury in that one and didn't start. The Friars are 12-2 ATS in their past 14 neutral-site games. Villanova is 2-5 against the NCAA basketball odds in its past seven games.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Providence +9
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes


Seton Hall vs. No. 5 Xavier 
The Big East semifinals are chalk as it's No. 4 Providence and No. 1 Villanova in the first semifinal (6:30 p.m. ET) and No. 2 Xavier and No. 3 Seton Hall in the nightcap (9 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. The title game is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET. Seton Hall (23-8) might be playing better than any team in the conference right now as the Pirates won for the 10th time in their past 12 games Thursday, 81-73 over Creighton. The Pirates' backcourt of Khadeen Carrington (career-high 27 points) and Isaiah Whitehead (24) combined from 51 points, including 31 of  Seton Hall's 42 points in the second half. Whitehead added 12 rebounds and none more important than in the final minute with SHU up two. Derrick Gordon was on the free-throw line with a chance to make it a four-point lead but missed both. However, Whitehead got the offensive rebound, beating out Creighton 7-footer Geoffrey Groselle for it, and was fouled -- landing hard on his back (he should be fine to play here). Whitehead made both and Seton Hall was on its way to the win. SHU is 2-6 all-time in the semifinal round of this tournament but only one of those losses came as a top-three seed.

As the No. 5 team in the country, Xavier (27-4) could steal a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it wins this tournament. The Musketeers had little trouble with Marquette in the quarterfinals, 90-72. Star Trevon Bluiett led five XU players in double figures with 24 points, tying a career high and setting a Xavier record in Big East Tournament player (to be fair, the school has been in the league only three years). Edmond Sumner added 10 points and seven assists. Xavier caught a break with two early fouls on  Marquette star freshman big man Henry Ellenson. Xavier and Seton Hall split this season. On Jan. 23 in Cincinnati, the Musketeers won 84-76. James Farr had a career-high 24 points along with 15 rebounds for XU. On Feb. 28 in New Jersey, SHU won 90-81. Desi Rodriguez had career-highs of 27 points and 12 rebounds. Seton Hall never trailed after scoring the first nine points. The Musketeers are 7-0 ATS in their past seven neutral-site games. Take Xavier as the wise NCAA basketball pick tonight.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Xavier -6
Best Line Offered: at BetOnline

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